“We are all writing the story of our life. We want to know what it’s ‘about,’ what are its themes and which theme is on the rise. We demand of it something deeper, or richer, or more substantive. We want to know where we’re headed–not to spoil our own ending by ruining the surprise, but we want to ensure that when the ending comes, it won’t be shallow. We will have done something. We will not have squandered our time here. This book is about that urge, that need.”
Recently I began reading a book by Ro Ronson entitled, “What Should I do with my Life?” A collection of short stories of others – like me – trying for clarify that question for themselves. Still trying to find the deeper, more substantive life of purpose.
Many colleagues within student affairs work with students to find their life’s purpose. Many I still wonder if they found theirs. I do not mean that in a negative way, but I do not see all of my colleagues energized and selfless in the work they do. Afraid I may loose my energy, it has triggered me to take another look halfway through my master’s program if this is what I am meant to do with my life.
The stories are messy and complicated. Finding one’s purpose in life is not supposed to be easy. Most people make mistakes. Most people have to learn the hardest lessons more than once.
I learned that it was in hard times that people usually changed the course of their life; in good times, they frequently only talked about change. Hard times forced them to overcome the doubts that normally gave them pause. It surprised me how often we hold ourselves back until we have no choice.
They spoke of fulfillment, not happiness. Very often they found fulfillment in living up to their responsibility to society – in finding some way to feel they were helping others, or at least connect genuinely with others. In this sense, even though they were pursuing what they personally needed, they were learning selflessness.
The author explored other fundamental questions throughout the book:
Should I put my faith in mystical signs of destiny, or shuld my sense of “a right fit” be based on logical, practical reasons?
Should I accept my lot, make peace with my ambition, and stop stressing out?
Why do I feel guilty for thinking about this?
Should I make money first, to fund my dream?
How do I tell the difference between a curiosity and a passion?
How do I weigh making myself a better person against external achievements?
When do I need to change my situation, and when is it me that needs to change?
What should I tell my parents, who worry about me?
If I have a child, will my frustration over my work go away?
What will it feel like when I get there? (How will I know I’m there?)
Too often we’re reticent about these issues. Talking about them can seem so fruitless, meanwhile inflaming anxiety and diverting us from the other things we have more control over, and can do. Yes, but it can also strengthen our resolve and shield us from distractions.
I found that the biggest obstacle to answering the question this book poses is that people don’t give themselves permission to take it seriously. At the risk of being fruitless.
When my mother heard this book’s title, the question she asked was, “So is your book about life, or about careers?” And I laughed, and warned her not to get trapped by semantics, and answered, “It’s about people who’ve dared to be honest with themselves.”
How honest have you been with yourself to this point in your life? I’m still trying to truthfully answer that question.